Monday, February 25, 2013

Meccano Engineering Toy

Meccano Toys were popular among the young boys in the 1960s and those who had a set of this were looked up in awe.  It was a set meant to stimulate the technical intelligence in young boys.  These toys were classified as "boys toys" in those days.  My friend Ashok in the opposite house used to play with his uncle's original Meccano set which seemed to be an advanced model as it had many parts which I used to curiously pick up and see in amazement how they were!  They were from the late 1950s I reckon.  That uncle of his had left to settle in Canada in the early 60s. This Ashok used to come to his grandparents' house esp. during summer vacation.  Everything was so leisurely and homely in those times and we could just walk in to any house in the street anytime of the day as doors were seldom closed.  

Knowing my toy-spoiling skills my grandfather had got me a junior set of a basic model available locally.  I remember there was the offer: 'If you study well the Meccano Set will be bought'.  But I had probably got it by pestering!

 I really enjoyed making various models with Meccano.   At a young age itself, I had been taught by my father how to loosen or tighten the screws and nuts.  I had made many of the models shown in the booklet that came with the set.  Out of the book, I tried to make a bus, but failed as I did not have the material resources!   In my high school days, I tried to adapt an electric motor to make a moving vehicle but the metal was too heavy for the tiny motor's low power. I had also took from Ashok two parts [gears] needed for this project for trying and never returned.  They too were heavy for the motor.  I now see that the set was "Made in England". Here, they are safe! 

I still cherish this set, many pieces are fortunately in tact, though some may be missing.  Screws are missing, but some are carefully salvaged in a box. 

This model must be 'Plano', as we can see on each page of the instruction booklet.

This is all I have managed to salvage. 

This box has little screws.

I looked up Wiki for more information on 'Meccano'. [click].  It was invented by Frank Hornby in 1901. The link also revealed some clue about an old picture in our album.  This is about some Meccano Club. There is mention about this club in the link.  I had been wondering about it.  Both my uncle as well as Ashok's I mentioned above are in this among some noted personalities of the city.  

My uncle and Ashok's uncle Kittani are seated front row with garlands towards the left.  In the centre with garlands are three noted personalities of the city. Sirdar K.Basavaraj  Urs [who was also a founder member of Rotary Club along with my grandfather], M.Madhava Shenoy [of Mangalore Ganesh Beedi fame] and Dr.P.R.Sitaram [Seetaraghava Vaidyashala - Ayurvedic medicines].  There is also another man with folded hands behind Shenoy. He is K.V.Venkatesh Murthy who was our tenant in the out house during 1960 and thereabouts.  So going by this clue, I must put the year of this picture, the same as his tenancy.  

So now I know something about why Ashok was playing with an advanced set of Meccano.    

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Music lover Parthasarathy

A fortnight or so ago, there was a brief news item in the local evening paper featuring a retired man who had great passion for film music having collected almost all songs from 1930s, esp. up to 1970s.  His passion was for both Hindi and Kannada film songs. I had called him using the phone number provided at the article.  Today, I decided to meet him because my interest too was in the songs of the same period.  I would like to call it as 'the melody era'

I have only a small collection, nothing compared to this sexagenarian's dedicated effort extending to decades.  So I wanted to show him how I pursued my passion. I had taken my book in which I have listed songs in my collection of cassette tapes.  During the 80s, I and my colleague got plenty of songs recorded by someone whom a common friend had introduced.  He had made a list of his massive collection of gramophone plates, also of the same tastes - 1930s to 70s and even the latest at the time, the early 80s.  He charged a nominal fee for recording.  We had to indicate the serial numbers from the list and the songs would be accommodated in the tapes we gave.  Usually, the wife of the factory-working man did the recording in her spare time as she stayed at home. That way, we got many of only the chosen best songs of different singers.  We got them on good quality tapes though the pre-recorded ones were starting to get available on the shop counters, at a time when the gramophone plates were paving way for the cassette tape revolution.  

My small collection of cassette tapes.  The cassette tape era is also now paving way for the electronic era - CDs and flash drives!

When he looked at my book, he said it was a good collection and I requested him to fill gaps in the list.  I had left blanks for some film names and in some places the year of release of that film.  From a free flowing memory, he kindly obliged by filling up without blinking.... 1943, 1935..... and so on and he was so sure that he even made a couple of corrections!  That showed how immersed he was in his hobby!  Hats off!

His name is Parthasarathy. While I was visiting, another music lover friend of his dropped by, typically in the old Mysorean way, without intimation.  Dr.Srinivas, introduced himself as a retired scientist.  He had dropped in to record some missing songs in his collection from Parthasarathy's.  He had his laptop for this.  I  watched in awe as they reeled out names of films, directors, singers and years from the earliest period, as they were their relatives or family events!  They seemed to know such details through and through!

How easy it is now to transfer data!  In his earlier days, Parthasarathy used cassette tapes to record film songs aired on the radio, esp. from  Radio Ceylon [now Sri Lanka].  It appears that he sold off 8 different radios to get better ones that helped him in recording until he got a rare 10-band radio which too he sold off when songs in cassette tapes became easily available.

He knows which songs are missing from his collection - he is always looking around everywhere and is hell bent on getting them somehow!  Such is his treasure, now in Compact Discs, that many from the film industry have come to take his help with regard to vintage references!  

He happily posed for me beside his treasure.  He has made arrangements with separate music systems in 3 places of his house!  This is one of them. Loud speakers are erected on the wall, just out of the top of picture here. 

And I must add that this morning, his brief interview also had been aired on the local radio.  Before I left, he picked out an extra CD containing some 70 songs of Hemant Kumar and Manna Dey, my favourite singers.  He said he was also a great admirer of Hemant Kumar.  He chose one from his magnificent collection of many rare songs of this unique singer with the enthusiasm of a youngster, said 'just listen to this.... how melodious it is!'  Because of sheer melody they have become collectibles!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two cherished little gifts

This is a picture from 1957, cropped from the group photo and they had been married for 16 years then, at the very house this post is being made!  That is my elder paternal aunt and her husband.  They lived in Bangalore as he was employed in the Police dept. there.  He also had the rare honour of getting an award from the Governor of the state for his great services. 

In the 1960s I used to be sent for short stays at their house during vacations and the affectionate way she took care of me is unforgettable.  She used to have the discipline that was befitting of a police official's wife and the daughter of a great disciplinarian, my beloved grandfather. There are some sweet little memories of that small rented outhouse they lived at a place close to 'Tata Silk Farm' and Nagasandra Circle, but they may come up in another post.  

Aside from all those happy memories, I still cherish her two little gifts.  One is a key-chain and the other is a little Webster Dictionary.

Tell me what is in?

You are right, that's The Little Webster!

For the first time, I measured its dimensions.  It is a mere 1.9 x 1.3 x 0.6 inches and contains 640 pages. 

She signs as 'atthae' means aunt.  

 I used to consult it in the 70s as I had kept handy in my desk draw.  It sufficed then.

Yesterday, I decided it deserved a nice cover. So I cut out a card and made a tiny box.

There you are, box is ready. 

The little book fits in perfectly. 

This will be kept in my 'shoe box'. This shoe box thing I read about in some newspaper article and realized I needed to start one.  I still wonder why it is a shoe box and not other boxes!  But presently, my shoe box is a vintage K.R.Mills 'banian box' [vest box]. Here it is:

Now the second item which I had already kept in the shoe box.  It is a key ring with a plastic design. 

 I clearly remember this was made for me at Mysore's famous Dasara Exhibition, in 1969 or 70.  I think the little Webster too was bought in some book stall there.  Embossing any name on plastic using heat was new then.  It was such at thrill at that time to have our names printed!  They are in golden letters and so are the memories of this lovable aunt who did not live beyond 1971. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Higgins Bhagavatar

I read a blogpost by the prolific blogger, Mr.Abraham Tharakan, [click for bloglink] about his dancer-grand daughter Susan. Somehow I recalled J.B.Higgins.

This name was very popular in the 1960s and early 70s in the Carnatic Music arena.  He was unique because of he was an American singing Carnatic Classical Music with amazing proficiency.

One of Higgins' famous renditions "Krishnaa Nee Beganay Baaro," [Listen to the rendering, 7 1/2 minutes - click on the link] still reverberates with energy and my grandmother was in utter awe that a 'pirangi' [foreigner] could sing like this!  His rendering attracted people because his devotion seemed to emanate.

Although he mostly won the acceptance of the general Indian public during katcheris (concerts), there were always the critics of his times pointing out minor errors in pronunciation. This did not deter him but continued to deliver katcheri broadcasts on All India Radio. 

His end was tragic.  He was killed by a drunken, hit-and-run motorist on December 7, 1984, while walking his dog. He was planning to perform in South Africa in protest against its then racist apartheid regime. His son Nicholas Higgins is an ethnomusicologist and a student of Carnatic Music. 

He would have given many concerts in Mysore also but I am not able to clearly recall.  But I vividly remember the several radio broadcasts of his renderings that filled the air from our Bush Radio.

Let me grab some brief information on JBH from Wiki. [Jon or John?]

Jon Borthwick Higgins [click on Wiki link for full details] was an American musician, scholar, and teacher known principally for his rare skill as a non-Indian in the field of Carnatic music. He founded the Indian music studies program at York University in Toronto with Trichy Sankaran in 1971.  He is also recognized as the first non-Indian to perform South Indian classical Carnatic music at a high level of proficiency and also performed to great acclaim at the Tyagaraja Aradhana, a very prestigious music festival in South India.

He recorded several albums and for his widely-recognized sensitivity was honored with the sobriquet "Bhagavatar" (scholarly musician). 

Higgins was much appreciated by Indian connoisseurs and his rendition of "Endaro Mahanubhavulu Andariki Vandanamu" ("My salutations to all the great people"), a famous kriti (song) by Thyagaraja (a great composer of Carnatic Music), was extraordinary considering the fact that it is a difficult kriti for even the people with knowledge of the Telugu in which it is composed.

More information about this great singer is available on the web.